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Voucher suit might trigger end of desegregation rationale

Gov. Bobby Jindal might not be exactly right on why the federal government wishes to throw up an artificial impediment to derail Louisiana’s scholarship voucher program, but he and opponents by keeping the pressure on against might make the suit’s supporters think twice about pursuing the matter.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice sued to have the state submit for review consequences of the program’s operation to federal courts in schools districts under desegregation orders to obtain clearance before implementation of these outcomes in them. The voucher program, which allows students in poor-to-failing schools the ability to have the state pay for their attendance at another qualifying public or private school, can have the effect of marginally increasing majority-race proportions at schools under orders to reduce the incidence of school populations that had heavy compositions of students of one race. As long as this segregation is not solely created by voluntary living patterns, in these districts with a history of intentional segregation under court orders would have to have court review of any outcomes of voluntary, individual decisions made where students desire to leave a public school courtesy of the program.

While procedurally this seems neutral, in reality it invites judicial mischief. Based upon criteria spelled out in the suit, DOJ argues even the most minute adjustments can be interpreted as retrogression in affirmative district action to bring as much racial diversity to schools as possible. There’s no reason a federal judge can’t declare such minutiae as critical and violating orders even as, Jindal and others have pointed out, the impact would be likely to improve educational delivery to minority race children.


Nonsmokers' rights preferred over smokers' choices

Alexandria started it, Ouachita Parish and its major cities may extend it, and that would leave Shreveport/Bossier as the last redoubt of permitted indoor smoking in north Louisiana.

The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living requested the cities of Monroe and West Monroe and the Ouachita Parish Police Jury to consider an ordinance that would ban entirely indoor smoking in places of public commerce, going beyond state law that does not ban it in establishments that primarily act as bars and in gambling locations. Apparently, private lodgings would not be covered. Monroe’s City Council will take up such an ordinance next week.

Often, the narrative surrounding the issue of where smoking should be permitted gets framed in terms of smokers having rights to light up, or in other to engage in a certain kind of behavior. Often ignored is the liberty of others not to have fumes from tobacco intrude upon their breathing. Opponents of these bans say the resolution is to let the market decide, for if there’s enough demand for smoke-free watering holes (places where the majority of sales are food already have smoking indoors banned) or bingo halls, they will be supplied.


Rainy day resolution might prompt meaningful cuts

If the Revenue Estimating Conference and Louisiana budget prognosticators are right, it looks like the state better start budgeting for the next couple of fiscal years on increases less than a rise in the cost of living, courtesy of a little-noticed provision in this past legislative session’s “funds sweep” bill, which might finally provide the impetus for historic major cutbacks heretofore absent in state budgeting.

For fiscal year 2010, the state took a dip out of the Budget Stabilization Fund, better known as the “rainy day fund,” to shore up the budget for that year. The problem was, under the BSF’s rules, it essentially required repayment during that fiscal year. That inconvenience was worked out by statute, essentially resetting the rules going forward. The unusual situation was that with sufficiently high mineral revenues that would force money into the BSF when it was below its cap of four percent of total most recent past state revenues, even as there was a declining state revenue picture, so the reset suspended repayment under those conditions.

But the problem with that was statute cannot override the Constitution, and some spoilsports sued to reinforce that reality. Meanwhile, lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal hoped in 2011 to amend the Constitution to erase the conflict. That would have opened up the BSF to more trivial uses, and voters wisely rejected that. A court eventually initially sided with the statute, prompting the state to take another helping out of the BSF for FY 2013. But policy-makers realized that judgment was unlikely to survive informed judicial scrutiny, so the next year, this past spring, into Act 420 went language undoing the fix for the beginning of FY 2016.


Avoid derailing of coming LA long term care reform

Gov. Bobby Jindal apparently saved the best for last in his revamping of health care delivery for the indigent and developmentally disabled in the Louisiana, as his administration is poised to make changes to the provision of long term care in the state that will provoke controversy among a privileged class.

Recently, the Department of Health and Hospitals announced the formation of a group to advise in this area of policy, with a planned implementation date in 2015. Currently, the state pays $2.4 billion a year, or about a tenth of its budget, for long term care to about 70,000 individuals, or an average cost of almost $35,000 a year. The concept is to move administration of these services to a managed care concept that would better match needs to services, which probably would save taxpayers money as well, but with a primary goal of expanding access.

If there is one area of health policy that just begs for increased coordination, this is it. Basically, the elderly indigent qualify to have the state pay for their care, and the disabled also may receive services with a higher ceiling on assets and income to qualify. Until about 15 years ago, this garnered a single state response: chuck them in a nursing home and reimburse these providers day after day.


Jindal serves state by ushering out inept board members

Cluelessness does not qualify one to sit on an important state board, so Gov. Bobby Jindal does Louisiana a service by refusing to reappoint a pair of hapless members of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

Its current President Tim Doody and Vice President John Barry will not be reappointed by Jindal. Both supported (even as Doody, an accountant, abstained on the formal vote he said because the matter might involve his law firm) a lawsuit filed by the SLPAE in order to milk potentially billions of dollars from companies alleged to have violated agreements and knowingly caused environmental destruction that may have eroded the state’s coastline. Their terms expired, the governor must appoint individuals to serve from choices provided by professional and political groups, and the Jindal Administration has said even if these guys are recommended as part of that, he will pass them over.

That the pair was instrumental in bringing about the suit is more than enough reason to let their service lapse, as it is of questionable legality and its chances of success are dubious, but perhaps most consequentially is an attempt to arrogate state policy-making power to a local/regional subdivision of the state. But in remarks made by Barry since then and most recently in response to his non-reappointment, he shows he has no understanding about how public policy gets made and its consequences – hardly qualifications for service on it in the first place.